Less than an hour after he fired off an angry letter to Catholic Church leaders about their handling of Argentina's same-sex marriage debate, Marcelo Marquez says his phone rang.
He was surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the line. It was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and now the pope.
What Bergoglio said to him at a meeting soon afterward that year, 2010, was even more surprising, Marquez said.
For months, church officials had made sharp, public criticisms of the push to legalize same-sex marriage in the South American country. But privately, Bergoglio seemed to be more open to discussion, according to Marquez.
"He told me. ... 'I'm in favor of gay rights and in any case, I also favor civil unions for homosexuals, but I believe that Argentina is not yet ready for a gay marriage law,'" said Marquez, a gay rights activist, a self-described devout Catholic and a former theology professor at a Catholic seminary.
The pope's reported willingness behind-the-scenes to accept civil unions as a compromise may offer new insight into how he will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
A public battle
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was one of the leaders of the Catholic Church's public charge against legalizing same-sex marriage in Argentina. He engaged in a notorious war of words with the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who supported the measure.
Bergoglio put himself in the middle of the fight, calling the proposed legislation "a destructive attack on God's plan."
With a front-page counterpunch, the president said the church possessed "attitudes reminiscent of medieval times and the Inquisition."
Some point to the public battle as evidence of Bergoglio's traditionalist views.
But behind closed doors, Marquez said, the man who would become pope appeared to be more open to discussion of the issue.
In another meeting, Bergoglio told him he had always treated gay people with respect and dignity.
"I have accompanied many homosexual people during my career to tend to their spiritual needs," Bergoglio said at the time, according to Marquez.
Pope was 'very open, very frank'
Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis after he was elected pontiff last week, may have voiced his support for civil unions in other circles.
Andres Albertsen, a former pastor of the Danish Church in Buenos Aires, said Bergoglio made similar comments about civil unions to him in a private meeting.
"In this conversation that we had, he showed himself to be very open, very frank with me," Albertsen told CNN en Español on Wednesday. "He told me that he would have accepted a civil union."
According to a story published by The New York Times on Wednesday, Bergoglio also told bishops at a 2010 meeting that the church should support civil unions for gay couples.
CNN could not independently confirm the details of the Argentine bishops' meeting, which was also described in a July 2010 article published by Argentina's Clarin newspaper.
"Bergoglio -- faithful to his moderate position -- proposed continuing measured actions. ... He would suggest, also, that the church discreetly accept the intermediate alternative of the civil union -- authorizing a series of rights (inheritance, social work) -- that would not equate to marriage nor permit adoption," wrote journalist Sergio Rubin -- now Bergoglio's biographer.
But that proposal was rejected by bishops, who voted instead to begin a high-profile, public battle against same-sex marriage, Rubin wrote.
Pushing for dialogue
A senior Vatican official said he could neither confirm nor deny The New York Times report at this point, adding that while Pope Francis might have expressed such a view while he was a cardinal, he should be given time to develop his policy position as pontiff.
Alejandro Russo, the rector of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, said it was unlikely the pope had ever expressed such a view, even in private.